Top Ten Spots for Spring Birding

West: Oases in the Desert, Southeast Arizona

Tell a roomful of birders that Southeast Arizona's mountain plateaus, high canyons, and lowland rivers are your fave place to brandish the binoculars and you won't hear much dissent. As Roger Tory Peterson once said, the region exerts a "magnetic pull" on anyone interested in the winged kingdom.

Southeast Arizona sits a borderland, not only between the United States and Mexico but between distinct ecosystems. A tremendous diversity of habitat is crammed into the region's up-and-down topography. Up high are Rocky Mountain style pine and spruce-fir forests, mixed in with exotic flora more characteristic of Mexico's Sierra Madre; lining the sides of mountain canyons are oak forests; down at lower elevations are the very different environments of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, along with cottonwood-lined riparian areas. This collision of habitat means a single day's glassing may yield sightings ranging from birds associated with tropical climes—like the elegant trogon, green kingfisher, rose-throated becard, and gray hawk, all of which nest here and almost nowhere else in the U.S.—to a slew of tanagers, orioles, warblers, flycatchers, jays, and hummingbirds. Combine this bounty with the fact that the region is also a major migratory pathway during spring and fall, and you've got what's nearly universally regarded as the best overall birding location in the country.

Just the Facts

Birding Hot Spots: There are a number of great birding locations to the south and east of Tucson, Arizona; among them are Ramsey and Madera canyons, Patagonia Sonoita Creek Preserve, the San Pedro National Riparian Conservation Area, and Cave Creek Canyon near Chiricahua National Monument.

More Southeast Arizona Outdoors: While the lower elevations of Southeast Arizona are punishingly hot from late May through October, spring's relatively cool daytime temperatures open the door to enjoying the region's great hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding opportunities.


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »